UNION, NJ – The Union Center Special Improvement District is putting in place plans to not only bring more shoppers to the center, but also to provide an incentive that could save taxpayers money.
Last week the SID board held the second in a series of evening meetings geared specifically toward providing a forum for residents to ask questions and provide input.
Although the SID board usually meets at 8 a.m. monthly, after residents expressed frustration because they were unable to make the morning meetings, the board arranged to schedule evening meetings every few months.
Although only one resident showed up at the May 27 meeting, that did not stop SID Executive Director Janice de Avila from championing the progress being made in recent months on projects and programs that should reap rewards for the center and residents.
One in particular, the Property Tax Rewards program, would actually reward residents who shop in the center with a rebate on their taxes. Although the logistics are still being worked out, de Avila said she is hoping the program will be up and running by the fall.
The SID executive director explained 10,000 cards will be purchased initially and these will be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis to residents or anyone requesting them.
“Residents can shop and dine at participating businesses and each time they do the card will be scanned,” de Avila explained to the board.
The rebate percentage received by residents from a particular business would depend entirely on what each individual business owner decides to offer customers, she said. In other words, the percentage could vary.
Fifteen businesses in the center have already signed up to participate in this new program but de Avila said they are hoping to get five more aboard in the next few months.
“So far we have restaurants, nail and hair salons and men’s clothing stores,” she said, adding “it’s a great program for the center that we hope will be up and running by the fall.”
Shoppers not living in Union will get a check back at the end of the year instead of the tax rebate.
The SID executive director, who came aboard as a consultant a year ago, explained the SID is putting considerably more money into beautification projects this year for the center.
“We’re trying to do planters,” de Avila said, noting she was still in the process of obtaining prices from various companies.
“Perception is reality,” de Avila told the board, adding that it really helps the project along when new business owners, such as The Pink Room at 1994 Morris Avenue, invest in beautification projects on their own.
The SID director explained that this business owner — who sells shapewear and lingerie as well as post surgery garments of all types — installed four planters in the front of her store, in addition to renovating the entire inside.
“They did a fantastic job of renovating and painting,” de Avila said, adding the interior “looks fantastic.”
The SID director also reported she has been working on a Sign and Façade grant program that business owners would be able to tap in order to improve the image of the center.
“We probably will have a six-month pilot program to see how it works,” de Avila explained to the board, pointing out that several things still have to be worked out, including rewriting a township ordinance to ensure businesses taking advantage of the grant program are up to code and any new signs are “aesthetically pleasing” to the center.
The SID director also brought up another topic that was discussed at the last meeting – the painting of murals along center alleyways.
SID Chairman Joe Leo interjected at this point to explain that initially he was not in favor of such a program.
“At first I was like, is this going to be like graffiti because I wouldn’t want to see anything like that in the center,” Leo told the board, but de Avila explained the murals would be artistic in nature and not offensive in any way.
“This would be theater art, or even related to the center,” she said, adding that this effort was still in the planning stages but if it came to fruition, would add to the center beautification efforts, not detract.
Another effort well under way is the Festival on the Green, which this year takes place Sept. 19.
The SID director explained the township approved moving the festival to Stuyvesant Avenue in the area between the cannon memorial and Morris Avenue. This generated some discussion due to the location selected; however, de Avila explained that this decision was made by the township.
“Businesses owners will be able to put a table outside their establishments,” she added, pointing out that business owners not in that section of Stuyvesant would also be allowed to put tables up to sell their wares.
Another project in the works is a “mobile app” to advertise the center and businesses. This program is a collaboration between the center and Union Chamber of Commerce.
At the last meeting, de Avila said, Rick Gillman, president of the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce, also owner of RGG Communications, presented a proposal for this program. At that time details discussed included the initial cost with monthly fees, sponsors, events, push alerts, list format and branding.
This particular app, she said, would promote not only the center but also the chamber.
“Maplewood is a good example of what towns are doing with apps like this,” de Avila said, adding that when the Union center app is activated, it can be downloaded for free.
“This will just add another way to reach out to the public,” said the SID director, adding that business owners will be able to provide coupons, advertise their business and let people know they are open for business.
“There will be links to business websites, too, and this app is relatively inexpensive for us,” de Avila said, mentioning that business owners can put coupons on the app to draw shoppers to the center.
“We are stepping into the 21st century,” Leo said.